James Rolleston has come a long way with Vodafone. He has gone from being Boy in Hollywood to being a buffed-up Boy who works out in the shower and more recently to being Boy, the personal chauffeur of rock legends who do covers of terrible songs.
But these journeys have not fatigued Rolleston, and he has now embarked on a new adventure: to find the end of the internet.
In a new TVC, which appears to borrow from the long run scene in Forest Gump, a dishevelled and impressively bearded Rolleston is depicted walking with a smartphone in hand while watching online video clips, before an on-screen notification informs him that he has reached the end of the internet.
“The campaign to find the end of the internet is used as a metaphor to demonstrate how much data you can get with our new Red+ plans – because clearly you can’t get to the end of the internet,” says Liz Wilson, Vodafone’s head of consumer communications. “As the content on the internet gets richer, more dynamic, more amazing, and we’re seeing more of it on our mobile phones, people need more mobile data. So Red+ are our largest mobile data plans, on New Zealand’s largest 4G network.”
As with several of Vodafone’s recent campaigns, this ad again draws attention to the fact that Vodafone’s major point of difference lies in the extent and reach of its 4G network.
“We still have a significant coverage advantage over our competitors,” says Wilson. “Our 4G is live in over 54 places around the country and we’re rolling it out to more each week. This means that over 2.6 million kiwis can already get 4G right where they live or work.”
With a spread of just 30 locations, Spark’s 4G network still lags well behind that offered by Vodafone (2degrees is even further back, with its 4G service limited to parts of Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch).
There is value being the first player to enter a field, and Vodafone had a nine-month headstart on both of its competitors when it came to 4G. But New Zealand is relatively small, and this means that there are only so many regions that that the service can be extended to. And eventually, the service won’t be a point of difference as much as a standard feature offered across telcos, not dissimilar from cross-Tasman calling or international roaming.
This relative homogeneity across more mature telco networks has caused several international players to start investing in areas that lie beyond the usual remit of telcos.
In the UK, British Telecom recently purchased rights to stream Premier League football games and bundles these with broadband packages in the hope of attracting sports fans to the service.
Similarly, US-based Verizon penned a $1 billion for NFL mobile streaming rights in an effort to attract new customers and to extract more money out of existing account holders through increased data usage.
Locally, Spark has tapped into the popularity of Spotify by signing a deal with the popular music-streaming service that gives the telco’s customers complimentary access to Spotify Premium.
In addition to this, Spark has also through its digital ventures arm branched out into various other areas through initiatives such as Lightbox, DigiLife, Bigpipe and Qrious.
Wilson concedes that innovation is increasingly being seen as a differentiator between telcos, but she says that Vodafone isn’t being left behind in this regard.
“Vodafone is constantly working on new innovation – we recently launched a whole new range of connected car services with BMW, and ways of using your phone as a security access pass. We also have partnerships with Sky to deliver content to our customers and Vodafone TV (launched 12 months ago). We are constantly investing hundreds of millions of dollars a year to ensure our network remains the largest and fastest, and see innovation and the range of products that deliver a ‘connected home’ as a core part of our services.”
The proliferation of connectedness means that the role of the telco is evolving beyond simple communication to encompass entertainment, convenience and business innovation. And at the centre of this evolution sits the smartphone, which now doubles as an operating system for various facets of our lives.
As Wilson says: “Customers are more demanding and tech savvy than ever.” And this means that offering wide range of services that often extend beyond traditional remit of telecommunications has become an integral part of the business.